May 31 (UPI) -- China will double its stockpile of nuclear weapons in the next decade, the chief of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said.
Speaking to the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley added that assessments indicate Russia violated a 1996 treaty banning nuclear detonation tests that could cause a self-sustaining chain reaction.
"Over the next decade, China is likely to at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the course of implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China's history," Ashley said on Wednesday. "Last year, China launched more ballistic missiles for testing and training than the rest of the world combined."
"We expect this modernization to continue and this trajectory is consistent with Chinese President Xi's vision for China's military, which he laid out at the 19th Party Congress and stated that China's military will be 'fully transformed into a first tier force' by 2050," Ashley said.
He added that the estimate of China's available nuclear weapons is in the "low, couple of hundred" of warheads.
Of particular concern is the number of tactical nuclear weapons in the Chinese arsenal, weapons designed for battlefield use instead of demolition of cities or strengthened military targets. The New START, or New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty caps tactical weapons at 1,550 deployed warheads, but there is no cap on tactical nuclear weapons. That treaty will expire in 2021.
Ashley noted that China has developed a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, a new multi-warhead version of its silo-based ICBM, and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. It has also announced a new nuclear-capable strategic bomber, indicating that "China will soon field their own nuclear triad [ability to fire nuclear weapons from land, sea and air], demonstrating China's commitment to expanding the role and centrality of nuclear forces in Beijing's military aspirations."
On Russia, Ashley said it has also increased its stockpile of tactical weapons.
"We assess Russia to have dozens of these systems already deployed or in development," he said, adding that Russia is believed to have up to 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads not covered by New START.
He referred to the increase in nuclear warheads as "the resurgence of great power competition,' calling it "a geopolitical reality."